Online shopping during the holidays is consistently growing, and this year will be no exception. During 2016, online holiday shopping accounted for $94.4 billion in revenue, and in 2017, that number grew to $108.15 billion. According to this year’s spending predictions for Black Friday, online shopping is expected to reach $5.8 billion, which is a 15.31 percent increase from 2017. Most retailers know that a spike in revenue is coming, but the key to handling increased volumes is by preparing early.  

Carriers will frantically be delivering packages under intense deadlines and with customer expectations that demand no mistakes. A late or damaged package could translate to a fumbled gift, a mistake that customers rarely forgive. What’s more, mistakes during the holiday season have a ripple effect throughout the coming months. So how can retailers prepare?

Preparation requires many steps, but one significant area that requires attention is shipping. UPS is a common carrier for holiday shipping, and by having a strong understanding of UPS deadlines and what can be managed under intense pressure, retailers can adequately set expectations with customers. Read on to learn important UPS holiday shipping deadlines and other helpful tips to kick off a holiday season that over delivers.

Important Dates for Holiday UPS Delivery

Customers eagerly await package deliveries during the holiday season, checking off items on their shopping lists as each one arrives. A late delivery could amplify negative emotions in an already stressed-out shopper. Minimize this situation by marking your calendar and planning for critical UPS shipping dates during this peak season. Check out the below dates and view the entire holiday schedule here.

Monday, Dec. 17. UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Thursday, Dec. 20. UPS 3 Day Select packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Friday, Dec. 21.

Tuesday, Dec. 18. UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up on this date are scheduled for delivery on Friday, Dec. 21. UPS 3 Day Select packages are scheduled for delivery on Monday, Dec. 24.

Thursday, Dec. 20. Mark this date on your calendar, because it’s the last day to ship UPS 2 Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, Dec. 24.

Friday, Dec. 21. This is the last day to ship UPS Next Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, Dec. 24. UPS Next Day Air service may also be available for delivery on Saturday, Dec. 22. However, these packages must be processed and labeled for Saturday delivery, which is not available in all ZIP codes.

Saturday, Dec. 22. Delivery of UPS Worldwide Express, UPS Next Day Air and UPS 2nd Day Air packages are processed and labeled for Saturday delivery.

Sunday, Dec. 23. No UPS pickup or delivery service is available. However, UPS Express Critical service is available.

Monday, Dec. 24. Pickup service is available only for Air and International Air packages if it’s pre-arranged by Thursday, Dec. 20.

Tuesday, Dec. 25. This is a UPS holiday, and no UPS pickup or delivery service is available.

If you have specific questions, you can also use the UPS Calculate Time and Cost tool, which will help to determine the best shipping dates for your package.

UPS & FedEx Peak Surcharges

Another factor to consider during the holiday season are the UPS and FedEx peak season surcharges that may apply to customer packages. One or more of these surcharges may apply during the peak period of the holiday season, and they vary based on the selected service level and characteristics of the package.

This season’s peak period is roughly from Nov. 18 to Dec. 22 for UPS and Nov 19 to Dec 24th for FedEx. It primarily impacts a limited number of packages that exceed standard size or require additional handling.

The one area FedEx and UPS differ is the Peak Residential Surcharge.

Surprising many, FedEx will not implement this surcharge for the second straight year, while UPS will not only apply the Peak Residential Surcharge once again, but will raise the rates established last year.  

There is always the question of what constitutes a residence vs a business run out of a residence.  Per UPS website:

“A Peak Surcharge will apply to each package addressed or delivered to a location that is a   home, including a business operating out of a home. The Peak Surcharge will apply in the amounts set forth in the charts below to the indicated service levels and during the specified   Peak Periods:

Residential packages with origin and destination within the 48 contiguous states, and    packages with Alaska or Hawaii origin:

*Source: UPS


Residential packages shipped from an origin within the 48 contiguous states to a destination within Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico:

*Source: UPS

Additionally, there may be peak surcharges applied to large packages. For example, a Peak Surcharge will apply to packages with length plus girth [(2 x width) + (2 x height)] combined over 130 inches. In addition, a Peak Surcharge will apply to Domestic packages with a length exceeding 96 inches. Plus, there is a surcharge applied to additional handling of packages. For example, if an items ships in a barrel, drum, pail or package that falls into this category, it may be subject to additional fees.

To find out this potential impact on a specific package, you can use the UPS Holiday Ground Impact Tool. Additionally, you want to make sure that your fulfillment process is optimized to help you avoid these charges. These surcharges are in addition to all the other applicable charges.

Tips for Intentional Packaging During the Holidays

A customer invests time selecting just the right gift during the holiday season, places an order, and eagerly awaits the package’s delivery. As expected, the package arrives on time; initially the customer is thrilled, that is, until he or she takes a closer look. The box is damaged, and as a result, the contents of the box don’t look as expected. Even if the actual product is not damaged, giving a gift with a damaged box or an otherwise altered appearance isn’t what the customer was expecting during the holiday season, and he or she will not be happy with the experience.

Packaging more strategically helps minimize the risk for damage and reduces the risk of unsatisfied customers. See below for tips to help you improve existing processes and build loyalty during and after the holidays.

Select the right container. Are you shipping in a box? If so, UPS recommends that you select one that is large and strong enough to protect the items inside, and one that allows you to surround the contents by a minimum of two inches with something that can act as a cushion, such as packaging materials.

Avoid “over-packing” boxes. Strike the right mix between including enough packaging material to keep the package contents safe and not overpacking the box, which can also lead to problems. Select boxes that are large and include enough space to add the required “cushioning material” without “overstuffing.”

Use a single box for efficiency, but pack items separately. A customer may purchase multiple items from your store, and the most cost-effective way to ship those items is together. Retailers, however, can run the risk of damage when these separate items aren’t packaged well within the box. When shipping items together, wrap those items individually and include enough cushioning material around each item within the box.

Continue to evaluate the shipping process. Even if the packaging and shipping process is working, it’s never a bad idea to have an annual review. There may be additional opportunities to reduce risk for damage and streamline existing processes.

Getting packages to customer on time is critical during the holiday season, but it’s also important for retailers to minimize risk for damage. By doing so, you create a situation in which the customer is thrilled that he or she received the package on time and that the condition is also exactly what was expected, which is a win during the holidays.

Maximize Shipping Performance During the Holiday Season

Packing items intentionally is a good start to holiday shipping, but it’s also a good idea to look for ways to improve performance. The holidays are the perfect time to build trust with customers and create lasting relationships. If you deliver on promises during the busiest time of year, customers know they can trust you in the months that follow.

Doing this successfully, however, requires that retailers create processes and procedures that provide a smooth experience. The customer experience is a moving target, and with the Amazon effect in full swing, the demands that customers place on retailers have never been higher. Use these tips for preparing during the holidays.

Start early. A competitive advantage starts with early planning. Target areas such as inventory, staffing, promotions, and forecasts for all selling channels to help put together a strategy for navigating the holidays with greater success.

Fine-tune communication strategies. Stress is high during the holidays, and the thought or reality of not receiving a package on time creates frustrated and angry customers. Review existing communication processes. Do you have expectations set about holiday shipping dates? Some retailers handle this by placing a message on various website pages, saying “order before XXX (date) to get your packages by Christmas.” This sets clear expectations about deadlines for the customers, and when they need to place orders.

Plan for the unexpected. There are no exceptions during the holidays. A snowstorm could mess up delivery schedules for all carriers, and some customers might understand, but it doesn’t get rid of the disappointment they feel. Sure, a huge snowstorm is beyond your control, but the customer will likely still have bad feelings. The best strategy is to plan for the unplannable. Weather may be out of your control, but if you build in a shipping time buffer, in most cases customers will get packages early. In a worst-case scenario, such as poor weather, this will provide a little extra time to get packages delivered.

Minimize the risk of overpromising. All carriers have different holiday deadlines, including UPS. By knowing each carrier’s deadlines, you can better plan when packages will arrive and build a little extra time into these estimates. The best strategy for delighting customers during the holidays is to have items arrive early, and in perfect condition.

Plan for after-holiday returns. Sales skyrocket during the holidays, and so do holiday returns during the January rush. Even if you delivered a perfect experience and the exact product requested, gift recipients may elect to return or exchange products. When reviewing shipping and holiday policies, also review policies for managing returns and how they relate to shipping schedules. Timely delivery is also important after the holidays during the rush of returns.

All carriers, including UPS, update shipping schedules annually. After the holidays have passed and business slows to normal levels, savvy retailers debrief and determine what went well and what didn’t. They can then make changes that are applied to the coming holiday season, and work toward making that a more seamless experience.

Delivering the Right Experience by Leveraging a Holiday Shipping Strategy

UPS will deliver roughly 750 million packages globally this holiday season. Many packages are moving through carriers at the same time, and if you want to minimize delays and potential damage, it’s critical to understand important deadlines and processes for minimizing risk.

With holiday anxiety pulsing through the minds of customers, building trust at this critical time of year is the key to unlocking future success. Meet holiday expectations and customers will have the confidence to purchase again and again in the future. Setting clear customer expectations and aligning them with shipping processes and goals will ensure that customers are delighted during the holiday season and that future revenue grows.

About Shipware

Shipware delivers volume parcel and less-than-truckload shippers intelligent and innovative distribution solutions and strategies. Whether you ship with FedEx, UPS, USPS or regional carriers, our invoice audit and negotiation services are guaranteed to reduce your parcel and LTL shipping costs by 10 to 30 percent, with no disruption of current operations. Our team of experts has more than 200 years of carrier pricing experience. We have negotiated thousands of FedEx, UPS and LTL contracts – saving our clients an average of 19 percent.